5. Colton Welker (856 points, 34 ballots)
Welker may have been Colorado’s fourth round pick in the 2016 draft, but his $855k signing bonus eclipsed that of fellow PuRP and third round pick Garrett Hampson. The Rockies converted the Florida high school product from a shortstop to a third baseman and sent to Grand Junction for his professional debut. There, all he did was post a .329/.366/.490 line with 22 extra base hits in 227 plate appearances (114 wRC+). Those were fine numbers for a high school draft pick in the Pioneer League, but many in the scouting community (plus me) wanted to see what Welker would do in full season ball.
Given the opportunity to play for Asheville in 2017, the now 20-year-old righty continued to provide plenty of evidence to his doubters that he is a legitimate prospect. Before an abdominal strain knocked him out of action in mid-June, Welker dominated the South Atlantic League against pitchers who were on average 2.5 years older. In 242 plate appearances, Welker hit .365/.409/.532 with 24 extra base hits and a relatively low 14.9 K%—a blistering 167 wRC+. Once he returned in late August, he slumped to a .250/.351/.281 line, albeit in only 37 plate appearances.
The final stats for Welker were still quite impressive: .350/.401/.500 in 279 plate appearances with 25 extra base hits (158 wRC+). He didn’t walk much (6.5%) but neither did he strike out a bunch (15.1%). Yes, Welker’s .399 BABIP and friendly home park certainly goosed those numbers, but it still takes a pretty special offensive talent to post a line like that. Welker hit a ridiculous .400/.449/.584 at home, but his road .302/.355/.419 line wasn’t too shabby either.
Here’s some video of Welker from 2016 courtesy of FanGraphs:
With his advanced pitch-recognition skills and feel for the barrel, Welker rarely gets fooled and consistently makes hard contact. Once he adds some needed strength, the bat speed and leverage in his right-handed stroke could generate 20-homer power. He’s a below-average runner with decent instincts on the bases.
Multiple Rockies officials have noted that Welker reminds them of a young Nolan Arenado because they have similar builds and put up similar numbers in their first two years of pro ball. While Arenado has made himself into an elite defender at third base, Welker still is learning the position after playing shortstop in high school. He has the hands and arm strength to be an asset defensively.
Baseball Prospectus ranked Welker 6th in the system recently with a 55 OFP and 50 Likely role tag. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Welker:
The Good: Welker swings hard and hits balls hard. There’s plus bat speed here and he controls the barrel well. He goes the other way naturally due to a little inside out in the swing, so he uses all parts of the field. He should grow into at least average power at maturity, and the ball already jumps off his bat at present. Welker was a high school shortstop, and the glove profiles well at the hot corner. He shows good hands and a plus arm. It’s a balanced tools profile and he handled an aggressive Sally league assignment well.
The Bad: Welker swings hard, and he swings a lot. His present barrel control is good enough to handle Sally League pitching, but the approach might get exposed against better arms. He’s a below-average runner and should probably stop trying to steal bases. While it’s a nice tools profile, nothing really stands out, so it’s a somewhat limited ceiling at present unless he’s a .300 hitter.
The Risks: High, but not as high as you’d think. Welker’s aggressive approach may get tested in the upper minors, and obviously there isn’t a long pro track record yet, but he has a broad base of baseball skills already.
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs had a short note on Welker in early June 2017:
Welker was scorching hot during spring training and has continued to mash during the season’s first two months. He generates plus raw power with his hulking uppercut swing, has plus bat speed, and performs a very aggressive weight transfer that throws most of his body back into the baseball during contact. He’s a bit stiff and might eventually move to first base, but he has the power to profile there and he’s showing more advanced bat-to-ball ability than scouts anticipated based on early pro looks.
Taken together, the scouting reports paint a picture of a dangerous hitter and an improving fielder, but one who will remain a corner infielder. That profile that led me to rank him sixth on my personal list. Welker’s prospect (and major league) future will hinge on his bat due to the corner infield defensive profile, so it’s been quite encouraging to see him get off to this kind of start in his professional career. He’s still over two years away, but Welker makes what was already a loaded corner infield position even more potent for the organization.